Making an animated movie is a tedious process because of all the intense computing power and rendering required. “An expert animator can do about 3 seconds of animation in a week,” Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg says, speaking onstage today at the Techonomy conference. But a joint R&D effort with Intel, which he describes as the largest such effort in Hollywood today with a budget in the “many tens of millions of dollars” promises to change the way computer-generated animation is produced. Katzenberg expects a 50X to 70X improvement in the productivity of his animators.
The research project is in its third year, but has never been revealed before. It takes advantage of Intel’s Sandybridge multicore processor. The issue with multi-core processors is that software is way behind in taking advantage of their paralel computing capabilities. “The problem is software does not let you optimize all this,” says Katzenberg, “it is almost like having a 1,000 horsepower engine in your car and driving 30 mph.”
Animators have to work with low resolution files, then send it to rendering overnight for 8 hours and see if it came out right. Then they do it again. ” The Holy Grail would be for us to have an artist actually see their work as they do it,” says Katzenberg. And that is exactly what this research project aims to do for Dreamworks. The animation house had to rewrite all of its in-house animation software, but is already seeing the fruits of the collaboration, which runs through next year.
The fruits of the research is already showing up in Dreamworks movies. “This now allows us to operate at 50X to 70X of what we were doing,” he says.